The 5 Strangest Foods to Eat in Iceland
Iceland’s isolation from the rest of Europe and harsh living conditions in the past have led to some interesting food choices that helped the first settlers survive. And while Icelandic cuisine is now all about creative flair and classy dishes, you can still get your hands on the traditional food. A lot of it can be tried during the Þorrablót celebrations, a midwinter festival honouring Iceland’s Pagan roots and traditions that occurs every January, but at other times of the year you can usually find Iceland’s strange foods if you really look for them. Read on to discover what those strange Icelandic foods are, and if all this talk of food makes you hungry, where you can try them on your campervan trip in Iceland.
1. Fermented Shark - Hákarl
The most famous of all strange Icelandic foods is hákarl, or fermented shark. The early Viking settlers of Iceland didn’t have a lot of options for food, so they had to get inventive. The Greenland Shark, of which there are many in the waters near Iceland, provided a large food source for the hardy Icelanders. However, the shark’s meat contains a toxic amount of chemicals that work to protect it from the freezing oceans it lives in – a few small bites is lethal for humans. Instead, Icelanders discovered that they could ferment the shark in its own chemicals by burying it underground for six to twelve weeks. Afterwards, the shark meat was hung up to dry for several more months, before finally being ready to eat. The smell of ammonia is almost overpowering, and the flavor is just as bad. Try it at your own peril. We recommend swilling down some Brennivín, commonly referred to as ‘The Black Death’, to wash away the shark’s flavour. Head to Íslenski barinn in downtown to sample the two together.
2. Sheep’s Head – Svið
Sheep have long played an important part of Icelander’s survival; the wool keeps everyone warm in the wintertime with the traditional Icelandic Lopapeysa, and lamb meat plays a starring role on restaurant menus throughout the country year-round. But once again thanks to the tough living conditions in the early days of Iceland, the locals couldn’t waste anything – hence the reason that they would eat the sheep’s head. The presentation of this dish is usually what puts travellers off trying it while in Iceland; it’s not every day that an entire sheep’s head stares up at you from your plate. It’s still a popular dish today. The brain is removed before chefs boil the head for about an hour. The cheek is the meatiest piece and favourite of many an Icelander. You can pick one up at a local supermarket.
3. Sour Ram Testicles - Súrsaðir hrútspungar
Proving beyond a doubt that the early Icelanders had to use everything they could as a food source in the early days, ram testicles are now a delicacy in the country, and one of the strangest foods to try on a visit to the country. To prepare these, chefs thoroughly wash, boil and then pickle them for several months in whey. After that, they are pressed together into a rectangular block, which is sliced up and served alongside all the other weird and wonderful traditional Icelandic food. You can purchase it in the supermarkets over the wintertime.
4. Dried Fish – Harðfiskur
Perhaps not as weird as the others on this list, harðfiskur can be bought year-round at the supermarkets and makes for the perfect (albeit a little smelly) snack to take with you on your campervan journey. You might have realised by now that Icelanders had to pickle, dry, cure and ferment a lot of their food so that they would survive the long dark winters, and this is just another example. Whilst driving around Iceland in your campervan, you might often spy wooden shacks on the outskirts of towns where they dry the fish, with it hanging up from hooks.
5. Blood Pudding and Icelandic Haggis – Slátur
Slátur is the Icelandic word for slaughter and refers to both blóðmör (blood sausage) and lifrarpylsa (liver sausage, or Icelandic haggis). Both are made from the blood, fat and innards and any other edible parts of sheep – again, Iceland was a rough place to live and nothing went to waste in the early days. The traditional way to serve both in Iceland is to boil them and plate them up next to some mashed potatoes, but you can just as easily fry them. Another thing that you can pick up year-round at the supermarkets – if you dare.